BLOG: How should we support college sport students to make good career choices?

We spoke to Liz Calver, Head of Sport and Public Services at North Hertfordshire College, Gray Mytton, Policy and Projects Officer at AoC Sport and Nick Ramsden, Team Manager for Sport and Public Services at Derby College about what college staff can do to support students to make good career choices in sport and physical activity.

It’s National Careers Week and a good time to reflect on the great work that college sport departments do in providing opportunities to their students to develop a career in one of the most interesting and diverse sectors you can imagine (not that we are biased!).

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the sport and physical activity sector has been immense. Nearly all physical activities at gyms, leisure centres and education settings have been stopped or hugely curtailed for the past 12 months. The data on jobs postings for 2020 shows a 14% drop in job adverts for the most popular sport student career choices compared to 2019.

Yet despite these grim statistics, there are some positives to take from our ride on the COVID-19 rollercoaster. There is a renewed awareness of the importance of public health with opportunities for the sector to drive this agenda. The inclusion of “exercise” on the government’s list of just four activities that you could leave home for in lockdown 1.0 was a boost to the national importance of physical activity. Finally, The Bank of England is expecting the recovery to be quick with the UK economy getting back to its pre-pandemic size in 2022, thanks largely to the vaccination programme and plenty of pent-up consumer demand.

Preparing students for their next steps is a vital part of a college education, but the importance of careers education and preparation are paramount in these fast-moving times. We know that for many of our students wanting to progress into careers in the sport and physical activity sector, much of their future employment remains uncertain, and as a result young people deserve our increased efforts to help them make good career decisions.

The continued utilisation of blended learning approaches into the spring and summer terms requires us to make meaningful adaptations to the delivery of our careers education programmes. In order to meet student needs we must seek new and relevant advice and opportunities that will allow students to make informed decisions about their next steps in the sector.

Staff need to be preparing students to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and not to be choosey about where or how they gain vital employability skills. Experiences (good or bad) are really useful to learn from and to reflect on in interviews (probably on Zoom!) so having a go at new things will always have benefits.

So what should we be doing?

  • We should work to identify emerging trends, gaps, and areas for growth in the local sport and physical activity sector which may have been impacted by Covid-19 and share this information with our students.
  • This intelligence should effectively inform who we form relationships with and how we bring students and employers together from virtual employer talks to virtual careers fairs.
  • We should host virtual personalised careers guidance meetings, which establish easy to follow pathways and targets for each student which provide additional flexibility for students to engage and attend on ‘non-college’ days.

What remains essential is that careers guidance continues to be a priority for curriculum areas despite the ongoing challenges faced by students and staff at colleges. We know that students entering employment in the sport and physical activity sector need to be armed to assess opportunities available to them and to make well informed choices.

Lockdown has highlighted the essential need for sport and exercise professionals, but how they operate may now be very different, and staff need to reflect on the changing nature of the sector and develop the skills that students will need to be successful beyond this “new normal”.

Over the next three years our traditional careers pathways may significantly change. They may be more specialist or even more diverse but whatever the outcome, our staff need to keep looking at future trends and responding by delivering the specialist and transferable skills that students will need to be successful.

More information about AoC Sport’s work in this area can be found on the policy page

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